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Week in Review: April 26, 2019

by William Weingarten

 

Voting for the Albertine Prize Drawing to a Close
The voting period for the winner of the 2019 Albertine Prize, which recognizes and rewards extraordinary literature in translation from French to English, will end this coming Tuesday, April 30th. If you have even a minute, head over to the prize voting page before then to support your favorite nominee! This year’s shortlist features 5 especially worthy titles from the French and Francophone world: Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental (Europa, tr. by Tina Kover), Éric Vuillard’s The Order of the Day (Other Press, tr. by Mark Polizzotti), Leïla Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny (Penguin Random House, tr. by Sam Taylor), Nathacha Appanah’s Waiting for Tomorrow (Graywolf Press, tr. by Geoffrey Strachan) and Gaël Faye’s Small Country (Hogarth, tr. by Sarah Ardizzone). Cast your votes ASAP to make your voice heard ahead of the Prize Ceremony with the winning author at Albertine on June 5th!

Houellebecq Receives the Coveted Legion of Honor:
Nominated for the prestigious French Légion d’Honneur on January 1st, 2019 along with other notable figures, the renowned French author Michel Houellebecq received his medal on April 18th. Houellebecq, no stranger to controversy given the hotbed of issues he incorporates into his work, has been dubbed the ‘enfant terrible’ of French literature. This recent interview from First Things showcases the air of controversy in his thought. When Houellebecq was bestowed the coveted award by President Emmanuel Macron, the latter distinguished the former’s rhetoric from his meteoric impact on the novel as an art form. Houellebecq stands among the most read French authors worldwide; his dark satire Submission—based on which there may soon be made a television series—sold millions of copies in various translations worldwide. Submission, “about a Muslim president governing France under Islamic law” received critical acclaim while provoking popular controversy. His most recent work, meanwhile, Sérotonine, has sold extravagantly abroad, and is scheduled for a US release September 2019.

2018 French Voices Grand Prize
April 10 at the Payne Whitney Mansion saw the joint winners of the 2018 French Voices Award recompensed for their extraordinary work. Translators Lara Vergnaud and Andrew Brown emerged from a shortlist of 15 superb translated reads to split the grand prize, reflecting the gravity of their respective accomplishments in making Joy Sorman’s Science de la Vie (seeking an American publisher) and Frédéric Neyrat’s The Unconstructable Earth: An Ecology of Separation (Fordham University Press, 2018) available to English reading audiences. Sciences de la Vie, written in distinctive “docu-fiction” style, posed crucial questions on “our relationship to the body, notions of transmission, and the female condition.” The Unconstructable Earth, meanwhile, explores and breaks down the constructivist themes running through the social sciences today, culminating in Neyrat’s own philosophical program; one “of nature and earth” that recognizes “Earth in its singularity”. Check out this in-depth recap of the award ceremony.

Patrick Boucheron Receives Acclaim in Financial Times
French political historian Patrick Boucheron, fresh off the release in translation of what is by all counts a masterpiece, France in the World: A New Global History (Other Press, ed. Stephane Gerson), saw his opus expositioned by British historian Mark Mazower in Financial Times on April 26th. The piece, titled Gauls, gilets jaunes and the fight for French identity, expanded on why Boucheron undertook writing his history of France in the first place: “[Boucheron] wanted to create a kind of collective riposte to nationalist history… France’s past could not be understood except within a larger context—global, we might call it today—in which ideas and people and goods flowed across borders and shaped one another.” While Boucheron’s US Tour is moving up North to Cambridge (Harvard University, April 29th) and Providence (Brown University, April 30th) before wrapping up in Chicago with the Alliance Française (May 2nd) and the University of Chicago (May 7th), the impact of France in the World has demonstrated its impressive staying power and relevance.

Jean Philippe Blondel's Exposed, in the Limelight
French writer Jean-Philippe Blondel’s Exposed (New Vessel, translation by Alison Anderson)—a “captivating” follow-up to his popular debut, The 6:41 from Paris—has received widespread praise ahead of its May release date. The plot of Exposed follows Louis Claret, a lonesome teacher in the twilight of his career, who finds himself reunited with a former student-turned-artist of note, Alexandre Laudin. As they form a working relationship, Claret becomes his former student’s muse, while his backstory is slowly brought to light. This “short philosophical novel about art, time, and memory” manages despite its brevity at 158 pages to deliver subtle, radiant musings on life as it is lived. Publisher’s Weekly heaped praise on the book, which “poses complex questions about the meaning of art and sexuality, and offers an elegiac look at late middle age.” For a nascent spring read walking the line between levity and complexity, look no further!

Dominique Kalifa Featured in Pacific Standard
Dominique Kalifa’s sociohistory of disenfranchisement, Vice, Crime, and Poverty: How the Western Imagination Invented the Underworld, has received a glowing, in-depth review from Pacific Standard contributor Noah Berlatsky. Kalifa centers on a social narrative created and proliferated by the middle and upper classes that vilified poverty and replaced its stark material realities with an abstract “imaginary landscape” that more suited their worldview. Kalifa’s claim that the notion of civilization’s ‘lower depths’ or bas-fonds, has been thrust upon society’s worst off by its better off, constitutes a step forward in social literature. Kalifa’s findings could bear usefully on the world today: a review from Inside Higher Ed asserts that “his concern is less the ... reality of these depictions than how rapidly they appear ... within a few urbanized societies and then spread across the globe.”

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